Pictures of Turkey

Near Riot on the Bus

Arms raised, passionate shouting, wild gesticulation, eyes widening and me in the middle. I am on the bus and a fight is about to break out. More raised voices, shouts of women and new men standing; I am in the middle.

The tension collapses. The din dissipates. Smiles wave backwards through the bus. I am pulled to an empty seat as the driver looks away.

I didn’t have the right fare. The bus driver had been telling me to go back to the station. The other riders revolted until he abdicated and I took a seat.

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The Most Interesting Bar in Istanbul, Or Not

I should have known. Everyone in the bar looked like they knew each other. But to my credit, it was an odd bar. It was long and thin. The right wall, as you walked towards the back, was lined entirely with books. It was not clear if they were for sale. It was not clear if there was a bartender.

After a few minutes, it did not become clear that there was a bartender but, there was a person who gave me beer in exchange for 9 lira. I sat down with my laptop. And as one often does at around 9 p.m. Eastern European Standard Time on a street that follows like a tedious argument over a hill in Istanbul, I became thoroughly engrossed in a recent Pew Forum report on the changing demographics of American Christianity.

It was not thirty minutes later that the man who had given me a beer from a cooler in exchange for those 9 lira also gave me a slice of birthday cake, free of charge.

A more astute observer might have noted the singing, clapping and exchanging of gifts but I had been caught up in noting the similarity in the rate of decline between the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodists.

I gave thanks. Ate the cake. Asked the internet for a birthday greeting in Turkish and blurted it out towards the crowd indecipherably. There was light applause that followed me as my bag caught a guests chair and nearly knocked them over as I exited.

That is how I found out that “fail” in Turkish is “başarısız.”

A New Band

I was walking back to the apartment where I had stayed for the past two nights with my stomach full of a stranger’s birthday cake feeling a subtle sort of elation in discovering that the only birthday cake that might taste better than stolen birthday cake is birthday cake that you receive for being a confused tourist who accidentally crashes an intimate gathering of friends and paying one of those friends to take a beer from cooler that was probably reserved for party guests.

The sound of Turkish music with a back beat and distinct lack of heavily accented American pop hits (it turns out that the words of Robin Thicke are blurred well enough by a thick Turkish accent to be able to cover up the explicitness of his anthem for sexual assault but not so well that it isn’t still deeply creepy in its catchiness) indicated that the bar I was passing at the moment was not on a regular tourist track.

I entered. Sat in the back. Ordered a glass of Raki. Enjoyed a few songs and the immensely entertaining ability of the lead singer to imitate a flute through whistling when the power went out.

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The bar tender threw a battery powered lamp onto the bar and went to the back to grab a few more. The band left the stage and began to smoke. Bolstered by the now finished glass of Raki and wise with the knowledge that the greatest social/cultural faux pas I could commit that evening I had already committed, I introduced myself to the musicians.

A few minutes later I had a guitar in my hands and a few patrons circled around with their drinks to the impromptu acoustic session.

The power turned on. The band took the stage. Three songs later there was pointing and waving. A few slaps on the back and I was on stage. Johnny Cash, The Head and the Heart, David Wax Museum and The Lumineers all made the set.

Yesterday, I received an email in Google Translate English that I believe invited me back for another set. Or was possibly about birthday cake. I’m unsure.

On the Terrace

The skyline is a raucous theater with its sights and sounds wrapping an expanding audience in the drama of each passing moment. Ruddish earth tones of roofing tiles grab and cast back at each viewer the mixing hues of gold and red from the setting sun. The crackle of one speaker is followed quickly by the pops and scratches of five more as the call to prayer echoes from every direction. There is no place to hide from the Divine’s call of creation back to Godself as the setting sun fires off above the tips of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.

The crows, gulls and starlings answer each call with prayers of their own. Each cry, dip, flap, flutter and float a shout back to the source of their being. As each one is, so does it praise.

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